Judge takes Tapper off Assembly ballot

By Jeremy Walsh

Almost as quickly as state Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette's (D-Jackson Heights) departure triggered a primary contest for his seat, one of the two challengers has been barred from the ballot for falsifying petitions after admitting to the impropriety during court testimony, court papers show.

Marlene Tapper, an East Elmhurst-based paralegal, lost her final appeal in Albany Tuesday after a Brooklyn appellate court upheld an Aug. 14 decision by a Queens Supreme Court judge declaring signatures on her petition were invalid.

“I can't talk right now. I'm in the fight of my life,” an emotional Tapper said Monday.

The initial suit was filed by Michael Den Dekker, a Democratic district leader and the Queens County Democratic Party's official nominee to succeed Lafayette.

“A witness at the hearing testified that she was directed by the appellant to fill in the number of signatures on a petition sheet that she did not witness,” the court decision read.

Tapper conceded at the hearing that she intentionally submitted the falsified petitions, the court documents show.

“The appellant testified that 'some [of the petition sheets] might have slipped through' and 'I might have gotten lucky' because the Board of Elections might not have detected the impropriety,” court papers said.

Tapper could face charges in the case, according to one election law expert.

“A petition for candidacy is a government document like any other,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia University. “If you forge it or lie on it, you are subject to criminal prosecution.”

But Persily also said illegitimate petition signatures are commonplace.

“It is always the case that there are some illegitimate signatures on almost any candidate's petition,” he said. “That's because some people don't know what they're doing. You have petition circulators who are doing it for the first time or people who don't list their actual home address.”

Tapper had previously criticized the departing Lafayette for gathering petition signatures after he knew he was going to resign. She got her name on the ballot just under the July 15 deadline after learning Lafayette, a 32-year veteran legislator, would not seek re-election.

“He submitted petitions on the 7th [of July], and on the 9th [of July] he signed affidavits that he was no longer a candidate,” she said in July. “And he still sent people out for a few days on his behalf. … To me, that's ethically horrible.”

In terms of fund-raising, the race did not appear to be close. Den Dekker had brought in $44,421 by the beginning of August, according to the state Board of Elections, while Tapper's ledger showed a single $25 contribution from herself.

Tapper portrayed herself as an outsider hungry for change.

“The rest of these people [in the state Legislature] are part of a clique, so eager to please the clique that they disenfranchise the masses,” she said last month. “I think people need to work together. There's people that are just too old there.”

Tapper ran unsuccessfully against City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) for City Council in 2005.

Afterward, she was a staffer for state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) until comments she allegedly made at a community meeting led Monserrate, Sabini's political foe, to suggest the senator was employing people with anti-immigrant sentiments. Sabini dismissed her.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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